Writing A Design Brief For Printed Materials

A good design brief should be clear and straightforward. It should tell a graphic designer exactly what you need, in precisely what size. It should include goals and objectives to let your designer know what you want your design to achieve. That way, they have a good starting point for creating a professional design that appeals to your ideal customer.

Example Design Brief For A Print Product

A design brief doesn’t have to be long; just as long as it needs to be. Take a look at this design brief :

Client Name / Brand / Website: Jane Doe at Bean Rumbled // www.website.address
Designer: John Smith
The problem: I need a fancy backing card for my new range of enamel pins. 
The design to solve it: A really appealing design that also makes it easier to ship my pins. I like bright colours and my designs are cute animal cartoon pins. I want something really cute to match the pins, using my logo, and designed to appeal to people who like animals. 
Constraints: - I need this designed and printed within 2 weeks
Deliverables & Amounts:

- 500 enamel pin backing cards printed on thicker, heavier material

If the example above was all you needed to know, then you’re welcome to use this style as a design brief template as a starting point. We’d always recommend that you actually write out a design brief, rather than supply it over the phone. Especially if you have a specific budget or schedule that you need to agree on. Read on to find out other reasons why it is a good idea to write a design brief…

A vector illustration of hands working at a laptop with a notepad and pencil

Put Your Design Brief In Writing, Not In A Phone Call

While it may seem faster and easier to brief a design over the phone, it’s often false economy – especially if you end up making changes later on. It’s far easier in the long run to describe what you need in writing so that designers can create what you want from the start. (And saving time will save you money, too).

So yeah. A good brief is written down. Maybe that takes longer than just a phone call… but that’s kind of the point. Putting your design brief in writing gives you the chance to really think about the details of your print job, and make adjustments beforehand.

But don’t worry: your written brief doesn’t need to be long. Even just a couple of lines in an email could make all the difference. So, the question is…

What Makes A Good Design Brief?

A good written brief should tick all the boxes that a designer needs to take your idea and run with it. But if you really want to get in-depth and get your brief just right, and achieve those perfect results you’re looking for in your finished project…

Follow This 3 Part Structure

Context. Problem. Deliverable. These are the three sections that make up a good project brief.

If you take a look back at Jane Doe’s example above, then you’ll see that it covers all three of these points behind the scenes. Asking for a name, brand and website is really all the context our designers need, while the problem and deliverable are asked for in the form itself.

So, let’s get started on your brief!

First take a blank page, (or email, or text document) and split it into these three sections: Context, Problem, and Deliverable. This way you’ll create a rock-solid foundation for a designer to build on with your project. Write a couple of lines each for the following three sections:

Introduce yourself, and what you do. (And your brand too, if this applies.) Tell the designer what you want to achieve with your project, and mention other design work that you like.

Are you a high-end brand, or a value brand? Maybe you’re a sole trader, or an individual just looking to print some wedding invites? Many designers take on dozens of jobs every day, and every job is different – so it’s always helpful if your design brief can paint a quick picture about who you are, and exactly what you need to create.

When we design and print something, we’re solving a problem for a customer. (It’s often the problem of needing more attention on their business.) Maybe someone needs new business cards, or a marketing banner, or custom wedding invitations.

Everything we print solves a problem for someone – and the more we understand the problem you’re facing, the better we can solve it for you. To solve it we need to know who, what, why and when. We need to know how big, and how much, and how many. The more specific you can get with the details in your brief, the better your results are going to be.

Sounds like jargon, but this just means “what you want to get out of your project”. Tell your print designer exactly what product you want to create, and how many, and by when. 

Do you need a batch of custom stickers to create a finishing touch to your unboxing experience? Or 500 matt-laminated, standard-size, plastic business cards? Or maybe custom tags for your product launch, designed with a certain target audience in mind? Putting exactly what you need into a written brief will guarantee that you and your designer are (literally) on the same page. 

This is the basic three-part structure for any good design brief. Don’t worry about getting these sections perfect, since we can always help if you need some advice on your project.

You can then email the brief, or else filter it through a design brief template you’ve found online. Use any style of design brief you like – but the more details you know and can give us beforehand, the better!

Now that you have the basic sections of your brief set out, read on if you’d really like to impress our designers with your briefing know-how!

A vector illustration of two professionals agreeing on an idea

Be Crystal Clear

This is all about editing what you’ve written for simplicity, and doing so from your designer’s point of view. Is your design brief truly crystal clear to a total stranger? (Or will you need a designer who can mind-read too?) ;)

How would you like people to feel about your finished project? Are there designs that inspire you? Any brands you’d like to emulate, or brand guidelines you’ll need to stick to?

Are there any competitors that you want to beat, or some things that make your business unique? If it isn’t in the design brief, then your designer won’t factor it in – so make sure you mention it!

If you have a particular timeline, budget and number of prints you need, then get specific with the exact numbers you’re dealing with. This will help to put you, your designer and your print provider on the same footing… and get you the high-quality results you’re looking for.

Be Thorough

If there are certain elements that absolutely need to be on your design, then your designer is counting on you to provide them. They will need:

- Any text that you need to include
- Any images you want to have featured
- Any logos or branded elements that must be included
- Any other elements or ideas that you want to use, including colors, fonts or layouts
- Any pictures you want to use, but may not have handy. In this case you can take a look at Shutterstock, and tell your print designer the ID number of any images you’d like to use.

A vector illustration of a businessman communicating an idea that his designer isn't happy about

Be Design Savy

A little insider knowledge can go a long way when you approve your finished proof from a print designer. In case you’re worried about the print proof you receive, and why you might have certain results you weren’t expecting, you need to be aware of the points below

Print is designed, set and produced in the CMYK color space.

CMYK: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key. Generally speaking, prints are designed in CMYK. (Especially when you order prints online). Digital and wide-format print machines work by combining this mix of blue, pink, yellow and black to form every color on a print job.

While colors are generally reproduced pretty darn accurately in CMYK, there are things that can change – like if you’re printing on colored paper, or looking for a printed color to match the exact color on your own screen. (Screens and monitors use the RGB color space instead, which will create different color results than using CMYK in print).

If you need a specific color to match your brand exactly, then it could be better to color-match your print job using a specific Pantone color. (This gets into the realm of litho printing, rather than printing digitally with CMYK toners.)

Printers’ bleed will add wider edges to your design, and printers’ marks will look like errors. (They’re not.)

If you find that your proof has an extra-wide border, don’t worry. This is print bleed, and it’ll be trimmed away once your finished product is printed and cut. (It’s just so that there aren’t any white edges around your finished print once it’s trimmed to size.)

You may notice strange lines and target symbols around the edges of your design – but these aren’t there just because the designer felt like adding them in! These are printers’ marks, specifically crop marks, bleed area and registration marks. They’re all just temporary tools that graphic designers and printers will use to get your print job lined up, squared off and cut to size.

(Please) remember that designers are working to limitations.

Print designers are bound by lots of considerations in the finished product. They’ll avoid fonts and imagery that are too small, for the sake of visibility (and depending on how far away the reader will be, which is where DPI comes in).

Graphic designers may also avoid using certain rich blacks and large solid areas of color in the design, depending on the printing hardware they’re working with, as this can lead to banding effects in the finished prints.

When a designer makes certain choices it’s usually for specific reasons, for the sake of print quality in the finished product – but if you want to question a design or make changes to it, you should always feel free to do so. (Good design is good collaboration, after all.)

So there you go – that’s the major points covered! We hope this article helps you when it comes to writing an effective design brief for your prints.

If you’d like to know more about our design process, or how we turn designs into finished prints, then please feel free to get in touch. We’d love to tell you more about what we can print and design for you!